13.7.22 – 5 Things I Learnt From Kerrie Obert about the Tongue
Rachel Lynes, Founder
Kerrie blew my mind. Whilst it’s impossible to reduce her twenty plus years of experience into a 30 minute practical work out, here are some of the pieces of wisdom that changed the way I view the voice:
1) Stop Fearing Tongue Tension
The poor tongue has long been demonised!
An absorber of sound, a cumbersome bean bag squashing the larynx, taking up space. As the largest structure in our pharyngeal and oral cavity, it also arguably offers the greatest influence on tone and function, even becoming a therapeutic tool.
Rather than some delicate part of our instrument that we should fear, it is the most flexible part of our vocal apparatus!
BONUS: In the womb, the back third of the tongue developed independently to the front two thirds.
This back third has potential to transform tone and massively help function but many of us need to take time building sensory feedback so we can realise it.
Do YOU feel you have tongue tension?
Kerrie described how muscle tension is defined as something that happens AFTER the activity has stopped. Is this true for you? Or might it be time to start befriending your tongue and seeing how it can help, rather than hinder you as a singer???
Start to explore singing with the tongue in different positions, moving the front, middle and back…. What do you notice?
2) The Tongue is like an octopus!
Like an octopus it has the ability to ‘slenderize’ in both directions.
The common advice in a vocal studio is tongue tip behind bottom teeth which although it has many acoustic and articulatory benefits can take the attention away from the potential at the back.
Kerrie advised starting to think about this ‘octopus’ potential and the ‘push and pull’ or ‘tug or war’ between the front and the back of the tongue. Play around until you find a ‘balance in the structure,’ with energy at the front and back.
Rather than fearing it, we can play with this movement – exploring how with the tongue tip forward, we can both the back
It is one of the only parts of the vocal apparatus that we can really play with. Unlike the soft palate, and vocal folds which only move in a few ways, there are near endless possibilities here. Plus there is more sensory feedback.
Try gentle slides upwards on a hum or puffy cheek, feeling the tongue lengthen in both directions and experiencing this ‘tug of war’ sensation
3) Your tongue can be used like a megaphone to boost your voice.
Small spaces create acoustic energy.
This can boost your tone and also create and acoustic back pressure to equalise your sub glottal pressure (the air flow beneath the glottis)
Kerrie suggested using the word, easy to experience the intense buzzy feeling of acoustic energy between the blade and dorsum of the tongue
BONUS: Small spaces feel big
Ask most singers if the commonly instructed ‘yawn set up’ is creating a large space or a small, most would answer small. Yet, in a yawn, we are actually bringing back the back third of the tongue.
PRACTICAL EXERCISE: Play with scales on the yawn to experience this.
4) Count Dracula can teach us a lot about tone, so can kermit.
We can play around with this back third of the tongue and pharyngeal area using cartoon voices to narrow the pharyngeal walls (Lateral to medial) and to retract the tongue (anterior to posterior)
These can be used like paint colours in your tool box. See each extreme version as a 10 out of 10 on the spectrum and play with what happens if you use say, a 7 or a 4 out of ten. Try mixing them together. Have fun. See what sounds you like and also, most importantly, what feels most ‘pleasurable’ and ‘efficient’ to you.
Practical examples include Judy Garland, a cartoon New York Gangster, Kermit and Dracula. Also using an ‘Ah’ and playing with narrowing the pharyngeal walls (adding more twang) to create an ‘a’ as in ‘cat’)
NOTE: these need to be taught with auditory examples not written down!
5) Twang can be a therapeutic tool
‘Twang’, the word itself, is a perceptual concept to describe a tone. This, to you may be ‘bright,’ or ‘ringing’… it may have associations with broadway belt or MT mix.
Yet, it can be a therapeutic tool in clinics to help strengthen voices but boosting tone and helping vocal fold closure.
Take a nice open Hey sound on your favourite note pattern. Try adding some of the sounds we’ve played with in different measurements, like playing with a new cocktail mixer or recipe book or paint palette. See which feel most ‘pleasurable’, ‘efficient’ and give you the tone you seek
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